In Praise of Roosters
A Sentience Article from

FROM Bill Crain, Cofounder, Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary
September 2021

The rooster seems to be proclaiming his toughness, but he also conveys something more fundamental. Henry David Thoreau said the birdís high-spirited strain expresses the ďeffervescence of life.Ē

Rooster Jean Riley
Riley - photo by Jean Rhode

People are increasingly raising backyard chickens. They enjoy the animals and their eggs. During the pandemic, caring for chickens has provided a gratifying home-based activity.

But municipal governments donít welcome all chickens. Many allow hens but not roosters. Roosters provoke complaints about crowing.

Bans on roosters, which are prevalent across the country, have created a huge problem. Our farm sanctuary hears about it several times a week. People call to explain that they ordered only female chicks from a company, but one or two grew into roosters. (This outcome is common because hatcheries have difficulty distinguishing between the males and females when they are young.) The callers say they would be happy to keep the roosters, but their local governments insist they get rid of them. They donít want to simply dump the birds in a park or along a roadside, and they fear that if they return them to the seller, they will be killed. They hope we will adopt them.

Rooster Big Red
Big Red

But our farm sanctuary, like the others we know, has taken in all the roosters we can care for. We have recently built additional space for them, but the problem is far too vast for sanctuaries to handle.

The local bans have added to grim fate of roosters in general. Those born into the U.S. meat industry typically spend their lives crowded together in huge windowless sheds, just like the hens. Baby roosters in the egg industry arenít permitted to live at all. Because they donít lay eggs, they are killed within a day after hatching.

I believe that the more that people learn about the animals, the more they will appreciate them and want them to have full and happy lives. They will even develop positive attitudes toward roosters and their crowing.

My knowledge of roosters has primarily come from working at our sanctuary, which my wife Ellen and I founded in 2008. Since then, our rescued farm animals have included over 30 roosters. We have typically cared for about 10 at a time.

Roosters are tough fellows. A few of ours have fought each other so fiercely that they have drawn blood. We had to build separate aviaries for them, placing each with a separate group of hens. Over the years, three of our roosters even attacked us and our staff members. They ploughed into us like football defensive backs making tackles.

Although the birdís fighting temperament causes problems, it also serves to protect the flock. I recently witnessed a stirring example of this.

While driving my car, I saw a large pen with chickens inside. To my surprise, there was a raccoon inside as well! The hens were all huddled against the back fence. Then the rooster stepped up to the raccoon and the two stood face-to-face. It was as if the rooster was saying, ďIf you think youíre going to get those hens, you have to go through me.Ē A rooster is no match for a raccoon, but this oneís bravery was something to behold.

This face-off continued long enough for me to get out of my car and throw a pebble toward the raccoon, which scared him away. I then informed the owner so he could buttress the pen against predators.

Neighboring farmers have told me of similar incidents. As a fox, raccoon, or other predator approached the hens, the rooster intervened. He lost the battle and died, but while the fight took place, the hens had time to escape.

Like brave medieval knights, roosters are chivalrous. When they spot something good to eat, they call the hens to it, and they donít partake until the hens are finished. When their group ventures into an outdoor pasture, they stand guard while the hens eagerly forage. Then, when he feels it is time, he directs the hens back to the safety of the aviary.

The roosterís crow, which is biggest problem for many people, is part of the animalís bold nature. It is never half-hearted. The bird rises up, flaps his wings, and calls out with all his might. Children who visit our farm are thrilled by it. Many try to imitate it.

Our roosters crow at dawn and throughout the day. When Ellen and I opened our farm, we expected to be disturbed by it. And our roosters did wake us up earlier than we wished. But this only happened the first two mornings.

Moreover, we soon began to feel that the crowing is somehow uplifting--a feeling shared by all those who have worked with us. The rooster seems to be proclaiming his toughness, but he also conveys something more fundamental. Henry David Thoreau said the birdís high-spirited strain expresses the ďeffervescence of life.Ē

I suspect that people who favor town bans on roosters have endured many noxious mechanical sounds, like lawn mowers and leaf blowers, and they donít want to be disturbed by roosters as well. But the roosterís crow isnít part of the mechanical world. It comes from nature. The rooster is natureís trumpeter, sounding out natureís force and vitality. He calls attention to the miraculous world of living things. I hope people who have supported bans on roosters will reconsider.

Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary is located in Poughquag, New York.

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